Practicing 'neurobics' before surgery found to reduce risk for postoperative delirium

Delirium is common among older adults after undergoing an operation and has an incidence rate of up to 87%.
By Mallory Hackett
11:32 am

Playing brain games during the lead up to surgery can prevent postoperative delirium in older adults, according to new research from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

These brain games are called "neurobics," and they're intended to create new neural pathways and increase cognition, which could lead to better postoperative outcomes.


Patients who practiced neurobics were 40% less likely to have postoperative delirium compared to those who did not.

The longer the study participants exercised their brain leading up to their surgery, the more their delirium rates decreased.

For those who played five to 10 hours before their surgery, their risk lowered by more than half. Participants who played 10 hours or more had a 61% decrease in delirium rates compared to the control group.

The patients that didn’t play brain games before surgery were more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit.


To gauge the effectiveness of neurobics pre-surgery, researchers gave 251 patients over the age of 60 a handheld tablet with brain games installed. They were told to play an hour of games a day for the 10 days leading up to their surgery.

The researchers chose to use app-based neurobics, because they could track patient engagement with the games.

“Using the app was ideal for this study, because we could easily track how long and how often patients were playing,” Dr. Michelle Humeidan, an anesthesiologist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “But things like reading the newspaper, doing crossword puzzles or anything you enjoy to challenge your mind for an hour each day would likely help prevent delirium and improve your mental fitness.”


Delirium is common among older adults after undergoing an operation and has an incidence rate of up to 87%, according to a report from Clinical Interventions in Aging. It can lead to poor health outcomes, such as functional decline, longer hospitalization, institutionalization, greater costs and higher mortality.

Interventions such as repeatedly orienting the patient with their environment and care team, ensuring they get a full night’s sleep before the operation, getting daily activity, and providing vision and hearing tools after surgery have been shown to reduce rates of delirium, according to the report.

Past studies have shown that cognitive exercises are effective in reducing the risk of delirium as well.

Gamification is becoming an increasingly popular trend to address cognitive health. Researchers have also looked at how brain games can help breast cancer patients improve their cognitive function after undergoing chemotherapy. Elsewhere, researchers are using the digital therapeutic Braingaze to deliver convenient and accurate diagnostic solutions to kids in China who are suffering from ADHD disorders.



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